Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has a blistering column attacking conservatives for opposing Judge Michael Mukasey's nomination as attorney general. There's one big problem with her argument: it ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of conservatives are supporting the nomination, not opposing it.
Lithwick herself cites the endorsements of Mukasey by Bill Kristol (the most prominent neoconservative pundit), and Andrew McCarthy in the National Review (the most important mainstream conservative opinion journal, which also endorsed Mukasey in this editorial). By contrast, the only conservative she actually quotes as opposing Mukasey is the obscure Brian Burch of the little-known "Catholic-based advocacy group Fidelis," who has doubts about Mukasey's position on abortion. Yet Lithwick's article reads as if Kristol and the National Review are exceptions and Burch is the rule. Perhaps Orin Kerr is right, and Lithwick is the victim of a crafty White House effort to make it seem like there is more conservative opposition to Mukasey than actually exists. Even so, a legal journalist for a major online publication should know enough about the conservative scene to be able to tell the difference between widespread opposition and a small number of holdouts.
Lithwick also makes a silly argument in claiming that those conservatives who are concerned about praise for Mukasey by prominent liberals such as Senator Charles Schumer and Nan Aron are engaging in "hysterical partisanship." Given limited information, one way to judge a political figure's views is to look at the views of those who support him. You don't have to be a "hysterical partisan" to use this admittedly imperfect information shortcut. If a Democratic President nominated an AG who had been warmly praised by, say, Dick Cheney, I doubt that Lithwick would denounce liberals who were concerned about it as irrational or "hysterical." Especially not if the president were politically weak at the time, and had incentives to make nice with a Republican-controlled Congress. In this case, conservative concern about Mukasey is misplaced (which is one reason why the vast majority of conservatives are supporting him). Mukasey's writings (see here and here) and record on the bench show that he is pretty clearly conservative, even if he does reject some of the Bush Administration's more extreme claims of inherent executive power. But that doesn't mean that all such concern is "hysterical partisanship."
UPDATE: I have changed one passage in the original post to make it clear that, in the hypothetical case of a Democratic nominee praised by Dick Cheney, Lithwick would not have denounced as irrational or hysterical liberals who were concerned about the nomination. Whether she would actually oppose such a nomination herself, I don't know (though it wouldn't be completely surprising if she did, and I would not claim that she was a "hysterical partisan" if such a thing were to happen).
UPDATE #2: For more evidence of conservative support for Mukasey, see this supportive post by Ed Whelan, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (a prominent social conservative think tank).
Related Posts (on one page):
- Dahlia Lithwick on Conservative Opposition to Mukasey:
- The White House and Conservative Concern About the Mukasey Nomination: